Winter Break Rocks in Gulf Shores, Ala.

Sweet Home Alabama signAlabama may lack the breadth of coastline found in Florida, but it offers an engaging experience for those who want to get away from winter for a few days or a few months. And it’s fairly easy on the budget.

We took three days to travel 1,000 miles south in our RV during the shoulder season and spent four days parked at Pandion Ridge RV Park in Gulf Shores. The year-old park offers 142 sites on 30 acres surrounded by generous grassy open space. When we weren’t checking out the surrounding attractions, we unfolded lounge chairs and soaked some sun.

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The common area here includes a pool, hot tub, and pond. You’re cautioned to watch out for gators, but sightings are few and far between. Bikes are available for those who want to explore the 23 miles of paved trails in the adjacent Gulf State Park and Hugh S. Branyon Backcountry Trail.

Perhaps the most interesting restaurant we visited was Salt, powered by local celebrity chef and former Boy Scout Chris Sherrill. When you walk through the doors you smell bacon from handmade, animal-fat candles on the tables. The environmental responsibility continues throughout the restaurant with recycling, composting and more.

Most fascinating, however, may be the food. Two years ago Sherrill helped found NUISANCE Group, “a team committed to raising awareness of Gulf Coast flora and fauna considered to be a Nuisance, Underutilized and/or Invasive that are also Sustainable and Available through Noble Culinary Endeavors.”

20171015_202253.jpgAmong the most popular underutilized, invasive nuisance they’re working with is the lionfish. Lionfish – just 13 to 16 inches long – gobble feeder fish that native species need to survive, and they reproduce like bacteria. They’re threatening the sustainability of reef habitat, fish populations and fisherman livelihood.

In the kitchen they become a versatile, flaky-meaty white-fleshed fish that can be cooked using almost any fish technique, says Sherrill, sautéed, fried, baked, broiled, steamed.  If our fried lionfish dinner with satsuma beurre blanc and risotto was any example, we should eat the problem.

20171015_144325Another night out we rode our motorcycle – we hauled it in a trailer behind the RV — from Gulf Shores to the Florida border and the iconic Florabama complex. Best known for its casual Lounge, the kitchen steps it up at the waterfront Yachtclub.

When not eating, the ocean beckoned. Along the shore, we squinted behind our sunglasses to soften the sunrays bouncing off ocean. We dipped our feet in the tepid saltwater and watched sea gulls swarm beachgoers with snacks.

20171018_174150.jpgThe Gulf is known for its watery sunsets and Gulf Shores/Orange Beach is no different. Wild Hearts Sail provides appetizers on a 53-foot catamaran sailboat for a waterfront seat. Jellyfish are sighted over the sides and dolphins sometimes rise to the occasion.

So many more activities are possible. In Pensacola the National Naval Aviation Museum is an easy hour drive.  On most Tuesday and Wednesday mornings from March to November, the Blue Angels—five  F/A-18 Hornets — practice maneuvers there. Speed and synchronized flight typically begin at 11:30 a.m. (Central Time), and last about 55 minutes. Admission is free. Wild Heart Sail also offers an all-day cruise to the event.

After soaking in some Southern sun and fun, a northern winter seems more bearable.

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